Last night I went and belatedly saw the sixth movie in the Terminator series, which is sort-of the third because the script wisely ignores what happened in the 3rd, 4th and 5th movies and the TV series.
It needs a gross of $450-$480 million just to break even.
It cost $185 or $196 million to make depending on whom you believe and it needs to gross $450-$480 million just to break even.
It is reportedly facing an estimated loss of $100 million to $150 million. Now I know why.
The action scenes were edited too tightly and the non-action scenes were edited too slackly.
Only my opinion, of course – and what do I know?
But parts of the action sequences were cut to the point of disjointed abstraction – a style which seems to me to have started with the overly-edited action scenes in Joel Schumacher’s un-involving Batman & Robin in 1997.
And, in non-action scenes in a modern movie, you really do not need to see what I sat through in Terminator: Dark Fate – people walking or driving to a new location to get into the next scene. It’s padding; just as some conversational scenes were thrown in to create atmosphere but without any plot point. They were padding which varied the pace (good) but did not develop the plot (bad).
There was one missed chance where a mini-revelation which might have been quite effective was ruined by a shot in the promotional trailer.
Arnie may have aged 27 years, but why did the machine?
And – a big thing because it troubled me all the way through – it was never explained how or why Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character – a terminator – had physically aged 27 years since the second film. He’s a robot! Arnold Schwarzenegger has aged 27 years, but why would a robot/cyborg/machine age like a human?
At least try to throw in an explanation.
For fuck’s sake, the movie cost $185 or $196 million to make: at least plug any holes which might detract from the audience’s willing suspension of disbelief.
It’s all the more surprising because there were signs that the whole thing might have been influenced by some committee which included (God help us) marketing people.
I like movies with kick-ass female action heroes but this one had three central female action heroes (well, two-and-a-half) and no male action hero – Yes, Arnie was introduced after a bit, but he really filled the traditional ‘sidekick to the hero’ role with action added. The feminist role casting, good in itself, may have arguably backfired because it was over-calculated.
Perhaps the commendable feminist role-casting backfired?
One other, admittedly very minor, point is that the title Terminator: Dark Fate doesn’t really mean anything specific. It can be argued in vague terms that a ‘dark fate’ for the human race is averted but, really, there is nothing specific to the plot of this movie.
It’s a generic piece of title waffle.
It smacks of some focus group or studio suit coming up with a seemingly ‘sexy’ but generic movie title.
Dark Fate is a phrase with a seeming ‘hook’ for an audience. But, really, you could sub-title any movie that – from Iron Man: Dark Fate to Beverly Hills Cop: Dark Fate to Snow White: Dark Fate – with as much relevance and effect.
It’s not big; it’s not clever. Not mean, not lean, not clean.
London-based American globetrotting comedy and burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller, 85, has briefly returned to the UK from Amsterdam where, below, she found time to jot down a few generalisations.
Don’t blame me!
Lynn Ruth in Amsterdam (Photograph by Neil Robinson)
I believe women in the UK are the most advanced thinkers in the world: liberal, open-minded, ambitious and proud of who they are.
But they cannot hold a candle to Dutch women.
The girls in Amsterdam do not take shit from anyone. They ride their bicycles in their fancy dresses and their sensible shoes (no helmets). They pay their own way and do not consider it polite for you to offer to treat them: they call that patronizing.
They are gorgeous, tall, blonde and independent. They tell you exactly what they think. They are NEVER wrong. AND they are loyal to each other. Do not ever try to criticize someone’s friend here; you will be ground to dust. I find that comforting. I am always sticking my foot in my mouth or stumbling into the wrong opinion but I know my buddies here will protect me and stand behind me, even though they might call me later to tell me what an idiot I am.
My generation – fools that we were – believed women’s work is to cook, clean and pick up after men and children. Not the girls in Amsterdam. You cook for yourself here and take responsibility for your own mess… no-one else’s. What a freedom!!!
The Dutch respect individuals’ right to make decisions about their own bodies in this country. My darling friend Nina is an abortion doctor. If you forgot the morning-after pill or the condom broke, she will help you set things right. Euthanasia is legal here as well. It is a comfort to me to know that, if I start getting loopy, one of my friends can ship me over to Amsterdam and, with a little heroin and a lot of wine, I can cross over to the other side. Just like that.
No lingering around, helpless and drooling, for me.
Amsterdam is a delightful city, vibrant and filled with interesting things to see and do, but the local food is execrable. These people love fries drenched in mayonnaise and greasy frikandel, a hot dog filled with greasy chicken, pork and veal, deep-fried and smothered in curry ketchup or applesauce. Everyone here loves pancakes with lots of sugar and anything not sweetened is deep-fried. If that isn’t horrifying enough, the Dutch love candy sprinkles on toast for breakfast. No wonder the incidence of diabetes has spiked here and so has obesity.
Dutch parents are known to take their children to an abandoned place like a forest, give them a sandwich and a bottle of water and let them find their own way home. They call this “Dropping” and it is a beloved tradition here. One Dutch woman put it this way: “You are literally dropping your kids into the world. Of course, you make sure they won’t die, but other than that, they have to find their own way.”
I personally have been trying to find my own way for 85 years 11 months now. No luck so far.
Lynn Ruth’s venue for five nights in Amsterdam…
I was in Amsterdam to perform at its famous Comedy Café, where I was to headline for four days and feature for one. On the way there, on my first night, I passed several coffee shops where the smell of pot almost literally knocked me off my feet and, when I looked inside, I realized that the only people there were tourists. The Dutch do not smoke weed. They prefer something stronger like cocaine or meth.
And they aren’t very fond of tourists either. Last year alone there were more tourists in Amsterdam than there are people in all of Holland. They clog the streets and pee in flower boxes. They also spend billions on trinkets and nonsense that boosts the economy and the Dutch love money. The only thing they hate about the Euro is spending it.
My first night was a Tuesday and the audience was sparse and a bit of a challenge. They were from everywhere in the world, but very few had English as their first language. Getting a laugh is not easy when your audience is processing what you say and translating it back into their own tongue. What I do in that situation is talk slowly and pause after my punch lines. Amy Schumer gave me that advice at least twelve years ago: “When you say something funny, WAIT. Then, they will figure out that they are supposed to laugh.”
And, in Amsterdam at least, she has proven right.
The lovely thing about returning here so many times (this is my fifth visit) is that I see the same comedians and each time I see how they have sharpened their jokes and improved their timing. I also hear comedians that have not changed their set in years and I have heard them say the same thing so much I can chime in on their punch lines.
I get the problem. It is really difficult to carve out a never-fail joke and, when you finally get one and get the timing just right, you are loathe to let it go. It is exactly the same philosophy as allowing your child to make his own mistakes. He will often make a bit of a mess at first but eventually he figures it all out.
A new joke needs understanding, love and persistence. You have to prune it and rearrange the words. You have to figure out the pauses and the emphases. But for most of us the agony of a silent audience, if we don’t get it right, is too painful. We are terrified to take a chance. So we stick to the winners for years and years and years.
Dutch audiences are very forgiving and very kind. They do not follow a particular comedian unless is he is wildly famous and I do not play in those big name expensive clubs that feature TV stars. In the places I perform, the audience come to have an affordable night out and a good laugh. The line-up means nothing to them and they rarely remember you from one show to another.
Next week, I am in Farfa, Italy, where I will stay in a monastery and show the nuns what they are missing.
(NOTE: Euthanasia is currently only legal in Holland in cases of “hopeless and unbearable” suffering.)
London-based American comedian Lynn Ruth Miller continues to guest-blog here as she tours the world. Last week, she was in Germany…
Manuel Wolff invited Lynn Ruth to his Boing Club in Cologne
I flew to Cologne to perform at Manuel Wolff’s Boing Comedy Club.
75 years ago, to say the very name ‘Germany’ made my family cringe.
Now, in 2018. I was celebrating my version of Chanukah in that very country and loving it. It is a new world isn’t it?
Lisa, Manuel’s assistant, and I walked the lovely, clean streets sparkling with holiday lights… December in Cologne is alight with Christmas though, to my surprise, I didn’t see a menorah anywhere. Are the Jews still in hiding there?
Since Lisa and I are liberated, modern women, our conversation crept to the big issue women are facing today: the #metoo movement. Our concerns were women’s status in the arts and how we can achieve a level playing field in our professions. Our conversation was especially interesting to me because Cologne was the start of the outrage that blossomed into #metoo. Remember?
New Year’s Eve 2016 in this city, hordes of North African men assaulted white women who were out on the town, celebrating. The press blamed it on the discrepancy between western cultural mores and those in Africa.
“The relationship with a woman, so fundamental to Western modernity, will long remain incomprehensible to the average [refugee or migrant] man,” declared Algerian author Kamel Daoud in Le Monde.
But the #metoo movement has confirmed that it isn’t men of color or rich men or poor men; it is MEN who use women as toys. And that sweeping statement is the root of everyone’s uncertainty about the validity of this plethora of women who have accused men of sexual assault in their past. Every rational person knows that it is only the attitudes of SOME men, but certainly not ALL of them.
“The fact that sixty years separate us made no difference”
Lisa and I discussed the opportunities for woman to achieve prestige and affluence as easily and quickly as men in Germany and the UK. Both of us are in fields where inequality of opportunity is most apparent. The fact that sixty years separate us made no difference. We two were fighting the same anger. We both have experienced gross injustice in the system, limiting the progress we were trying to make in our careers.
I often wonder if these glass ceilings are more excuses we make for people simply not appreciating our talents. The answer is that it is impossible to be sure.
Statistics certainly support the theory that women have less of a chance to progress in any field or earn as much income for the same work. To me, just being aware of this and talking about the insult that creates is a huge step forward. In my day, this dichotomy was simply accepted. It was a man’s world.
After we finished trying to fix society, I went to my hotel, took a nap and tarted-up for my headline performance at Manuel’s Boing Comedy Club.
The show Manuel creates is fast-paced, professional and funny. He is a superb host and knows just how much to involve his audience, who are mostly German but fluent in English with a mixture of English-speaking students and a smattering of people from all over the globe. The comedians made a point of coming up to me and introducing themselves to me. The audience loved to laugh and the comedian who preceded me was so professional I was terrified to have to follow him His name was David Deeblew. He finished his act by juggling plastic bags in the air while he spoke. I am someone who can barely walk in a straight line when I am sober. You can imagine how intimidated I felt.
Headlining at a show with two intervals means that I must amuse a pretty drunk and very tired audience. Thank goodness it worked and everyone laughed (or I THINK they did. My hearing is definitely NOT what it used to be).
The best part of the evening, though, was afterwards.
Lynn Ruth and the godfather of stand-up comedy in Germany
All the comedians stayed afterwards to drink and talk about anything and everything. One of the people who stayed was Johnny ‘Hollywood’ Rotnem, an American who is the so-called godfather of English stand-up comedy in Germany. He was the one who started the clubs that are now all over the country. Comedy in German has really taken off here despite the fact that everyone thinks Germans do not have a sense of humor. The number of successful clubs in the country proves that stereotype wrong.
I will be back in Germany soon to do Andy Valvur’s club at Fiddlers Pub in Bonn. Andy is a former San Francisco comedian who knows all the people who were the big names in comedy when I was there.
We had a place called The Holy City Zoo where Robin Williams among many others cut their teeth on stand-up comedy. Famous people like Will Durst, Johnny Steele, Larry Bubbles Brown, Michael Meehan… all of them began there.
Andy came to my show at Boing Comedy and I felt like I was experiencing a bit of comedic history when I spoke to him about how comedy has expanded, improved and changed.
Comedians today no longer stick to the rigid set-up/punch-line formula. I think that is a mistake. Too many words spoil the joke just as too many cooks spoil the broth.
The next morning, I had to get up early to catch the plane to Frankfurt for my two-day comedy workshop and show.
After I arrived in Frankfurt, I crashed until 3.00 pm, then set out for the comedy class. This was a group of ten people who had tried comedy before and wanted a boot-camp kind of refresher. They were from a variety of countries and only two of them spoke English as their first language.
It must be unbelievably difficult to do humor in a different language from your own, but these people were up for it and all their jokes had huge potential. The two hour class actually lasted four hours but I am satisfied that we gave everyone the personal attention they needed.
The next day, their assignment was to bring in five minutes of material to practice for a show that night. I thought these people had huge potential and I was very excited to see what the result would be of our intensive joke analysis.
Four of the students joined me for dinner after the show and I got to know them a bit better.
“It felt like a meeting of the United Nations all drinking beer”
In the group was Tom from Finland, Pedro from Portugal, Julian from Germany, Clem, a lovely woman from France, Kirthy from India and me from America. It felt like a meeting of the United Nations all drinking beer together and talking about comedy as a profession even though all of the others work at other jobs. We drank a lot of alcohol. It helped.
The next day was our final class and then the show. We all critiqued each other and, to my delight, all the criticisms incorporated what I had taught: short set ups, strong punches, direct sentences.
The group not only had to master language differences but they had to let go of material they loved that wasn’t working well. They did it and the show was great. We all went out for dinner afterwards to celebrate.
I had a 7.00am flight back to London and had to battle the German version of Ryanair. For some unknown reason, my backpack registered something lethal and not only did they keep me standing for a half hour waiting for the police to come but, when the officious inspector went through the backpack, he just tossed everything in a pile and let me put everything back together. Of course, there was nothing in the bag but a notebook of jokes, a lot of tissues (just in case) and an American passport.
That might have been what set the detector off. America is not popular these days.
The incident was truly minor, but I was terribly upset and couldn’t seem to regain my equilibrium.
I suspect this is why psychological warfare is so effective. I had done nothing but was made to feel like a dangerous criminal.
The good news is that the rest of the trip home was lovely and I managed to get through UK passport control relatively quickly and home to bed because I had to get to Top Secret Comedy Club that night.
After a brief pause for the last two days of my blogs on the late actress Jacqueline Pearce, London-based American comedian and late-blossoming burlesque performer 84-year-old Lynn Ruth Miller continues tales of her experience returning to the US for three weeks of gigs in and around San Francisco…
This afternoon I met with Beth Lemke, an enterprising woman who started a wine bar in Pacifica where the majority of the establishments are blue-collar, junk food and cheap.
The odds were against her in every way and yet, seven years into it, she has a profitable business that supports her in the Bay Area where the cost of living is over the moon and out.
I always love being with her because she confirms my idea that you make the life you get.
No-one needs to be a victim.
No-one needs to shut up and take it.
And Beth does not in any way.
Her new thing is travel and she is planning several trips in 2019. Hopefully a return to London is one of them.
Tonight I returned to Jim Sweeney’s Hubba, Hubba. Jim is the one who really established me in the burlesque scene here in San Francisco. Dottie Lux picked me up later and has been a wonderful loyal supporter but it was Jim who booked me over and over again.
Tonight I did our old classic – Johnny Mercer’s Strip Polka – with the two songs I composed to go after it and then I tried Zip out on a San Francisco audience.
I was a bit uncertain about Zip because it gets standing ovations in London – but it has several British references.
I need not have worried. It was a triumph!!!
Several of the girls remembered me and the audience went mad for me, which is a very feel-good situation.
I stumbled around on the stage singing my classic Strip Polka number although I certainly did not polka. I did not want to risk ending up in an emergency ward. And I followed this with Zip.
Most of the audience was standing by now. You would have thought that watching an old lady play with her zipper would have put them all to sleep. It did not. I will never understand why the burlesque community does not care that I cannot dance, cannot sing and I have a body that should have been trashed years ago.
Nothing in this vast world of ours is predictable, is it?
Burlesque communities worldwide are not only more accepting of every age and body type but are actively welcoming. I have found this so in London, Cardiff, Glasgow, Bridgwater, Bristol and here in the San Francisco area. I think women who do burlesque are far less judgmental and far more anxious to give everyone the latitude to prosper being themselves.
Even more interesting, the women in comedy over here are very off-putting and determined to assert their own excellence and demean anyone else’s.
In London, women support and love one another and it is a pleasure to share a stage with them. Here in the US, it seems that we are in a competition which is a definite lose/lose situation.
Everyone’s comedy is unique to them and is as it should be.
In the last two blogs, comedy critic Kate Copstick told me how she became disillusioned as a lawyer, discovered cocaine in children’s TV and met Jimmy Savile. Today’s blog, from a chat at The Grouchy Club, brings her story up to date.
“So you were a children’s TV presenter in London,” I said. “How did you end up writing for The Scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh?”
“I was rent-a-gob female for ages on TV,” she said.
“Rent-a-feminist?” I asked.
“Oh, you’re joking!” Copstick replied. “Good God no! Do I look that humorless? I’m not anti-feminist. I just find it very irritating… Not everything is the fault of men. There were women who used to have to fight for stuff in Britain but I work most of the time in Kenya now. Women there really, really have to fight and terrible things happen to them. Appalling things. I see the real fight women have to fight in Africa: the terrible way they are treated. Then I come back to Britain and find some twat of an actress has gone on Facebook saying Aw, we were hosting a serious play and someone saidNice tits!and I would really have thought blah blah blah blah… Hashtag EverydayMisogyny.
“If you really, really care about women and women’s rights, then in Britain we’re doing kind of relatively OK. Why not come with me to countries where women are really doing very badly? If you care so bloody much, come with me and help them. Don’t sit here and get outraged because in Britain some woman has five children, is adopting a third, can only work every third Monday and then only until 5 o’clock in the afternoon and is complaining because she’s not chairman of the bloody company board.”
“So,” I said, “you were a rent-a-gob female but not a feminist…”
“Yes. And I did loads of TV gameshows. I hosted a couple for the BBC. But, at the same time, I was doing lots of writing.”
“About what?” I asked.
“Sex,” said Copstick. “Mainly sex. Stick to what you know. They say that in comedy. In writing too. I could have written about Kelsen’s Pure Theory of Law, but it just never had the sales potential that sex and alcohol did. I wrote for FHM magazine. I did a column called Stuff Your Face With Copstick. I used to take famous men out for lunch and we’d get reasonably drunk and then I’d write about what I remembered of it and it seemed to go down well.”
“I’m sure you did,” I said.
The Erotic Review led to comedy reviews
“Then,” said Copstick, “I interviewed Rowan Pelling, who was working for the Erotic Review. She was posh totty. The Arts Editor of The Scotsman – Robert Dawson Scott – sent me down to interview her. He liked what I wrote and (in 1999) he said What about coming and devastating young people’s dreams in August for a month (reviewing comedy at the Edinburgh Fringe) and I thought Weyhey! That sounds like fun! The Darth Vader effect seemed to suit me and I did more and more writing.”
Copstick now owns The Erotic Review and is the doyernne of comedy reviewers at the Edinburgh Fringe but, for around six months of each year, she works in Kenya.
“You have a charity in Kenya,” I said to her.
“Yes. Mama Biashara, which is Swahili for Business Mother. I get people who are really up to their nipples in horror and – I’m not a particularly touchy-feely person – I don’t do all that I feel your pain. Let’s go and talk thing. You can talk till the cows come home and it’s not going to do any good.
“No! You don’t empower people by talking. You empower people by giving them money and a skill so then they can tell the bad guys to fuck off. That’s how you empower people. Not by sitting and giving them ideas that are never going to come true.”
Mama Biashara gives people who previously had no hope small amounts of money and practical help to start their own self-sustaining small businesses.
Copstick (in blue) at new Mama Biashara well
“For a lot of the commercial sex workers,” said Copstick, “we have a thing called Kucha Kool (kucha is the Swahili word for finger nail) where they become roving manicurists. You have to start a business that plays to your strengths and the girls who come off the street we try to set up in hairdresser businesses or sewing or as manicurists.
“With the Kucha Kool girls, I give them a dozen assorted nail varnishes, emery boards and buffers and whatever else in a nice case and then they hit the ground running, because they can make 1,500 bob a day (a ‘bob’ is a Kenyan Shilling) and when you consider they got 40 bob for a shag, then 1,500 bob a day is pretty good.
“I buy all that in bulk here in Britain, where it’s cheaper, and then we can hand somebody a business start-up in Kenya.”
“You used to live in the Nairobi slums in a storage container,” I said.
“I have to live in the slums, really,” said Copstick, “because I can’t afford anything else and because I’m kind of obsessive about the money from Mama Biashara going to the women – the people – who need it. I pay all my own expenses. And it’s fine. Who needs to have an inside toilet? My gran lived perfectly well without one.”
“And where do you live in Nairobi now?” I asked.
“Well, thereby hangs a tale,” said Copstick. “Just before I went into my first show at the Fringe (at the beginning of August), I got a text from Kenya saying: Call us! Call us! It is a disaster!
“In the slums, we had set up a little house. The front of it was mbati (corrugated metal). The sides were stone. The back was bits of wood. And the roof was a patchwork of everything. I was describing it to a friend in Kenya and he said: Oh, that is a very random house. So we called it The Random House. It was the headquarters for Mama Biashara, with loads of stuff there, blankets, lots of hair dryers to start hairdressing businesses, three sewing machines which I had just bought, loads of medication and just everything to help people start up a business.
“You can hire men from the City Council. You pay them 200 bob and they will do any type of thuggery you want. Apparently at 4.00am on a Tuesday morning, about a dozen men from the City Council came to the compound where The Random House is, broke in, carted out on City Council handcarts everything that was inside and then brought a bulldozer and flattened it.”
Copstick returns to Nairobi on Sunday.
When I asked her last week where she was going to live, she told me: “The house has been knocked down, so I have absolutely no idea. I will just have to see when I get there.”
“I got a loan of a bike. It was too big and I banged my fanny on it – In Edinburgh 10 minutes and I cracked my vag.”
Fringe fever has started early this year.
Joys of modern life at motorway service station near Stafford
I am driving up from London to Edinburgh today, so I am writing this blog at the Costa cafe in Stafford service station on the M6 motorway.
This year’s two-hour Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show is being held on Friday 22nd August. The three awards are in memory of ‘the godfather of British alternative comedy’ who drowned in 2005. So it goes.
Below is an extract from his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, published in 1996. Amazon.co.uk’s current listing retains their own humorous and extensive balls-up in which it describes the book as an aid to classroom teaching.
In this edited extract from the book itself, Malcolm talks about the first time he appeared with The Greatest Show On Legs at the Fringe.
Not a standard aid to class teaching
We did our first Edinburgh Fringe in August 1982, before it became so commercial.
That year, we were playing in a venue called The Hole in The Ground which literally was just that: a hole in the ground. An ‘organisation’ called Circuit had erected a 700-seat marquee on this piece of derelict wasteland.
Also performing in The Hole in The Ground was The Egg Man, who was Icelandic years before Björk. His show consisted of a two-hour monologue performed, completely in Icelandic, to an audience of one in cave which was one of the ‘natural features’ of The Hole in The Ground. He used to auction the ticket for each show and a reviewer from the Scotsman actually had to pay over £50 to watch a performance of this two-hour Icelandic monologue. He couldn’t understand a word but, in a way, it was Art.
Today, this just wouldn’t happen as the big Agencies use Edinburgh to hype-up future short-lived TV ‘stars’.
That first year, the Circuit tent in Edinburgh held about 700 people.
I had stupidly agreed we’d do it for a ‘wage’ of £500 a week. In the meantime, we’d been on (the TV show) OTT, we were popular and we were selling the tickets out at about £5 a ticket. So they were making about £3,500 a night and we were getting £500 per week between the three of us. So I felt bitter again.
There was another lot performing at The Hole in The Ground: a group of feminists. They were called Monstrous Regiment. They were doing a play about prisoners. About how it’s not the prisoners’ fault they’re in prison. It’s Society’s fault. It’s all of our faults. All of that nonsense.
We were really poor that first year. We were performing in The Tent in The Hole in The Ground and we were living in tents next to The Tent. Edinburgh is always cold and it was even colder that year: it snowed.
Also that year, a German opera show had a pig in it and I had my tent next to the place where they kept the pig.
So, I was feeling bitter and feeling bitter cold.
At, the end of the week, Circuit decided to have a Press Conference and they put another tent up. They loved a tent. A big marquee. Commissionaire outside. Posh. We turned up and they wouldn’t let us in even though we’d been there a week and sold out our shows and everything. Well, we were naked, which might have had something to do with it. And not entirely wholesome. So we went and got dressed and eventually they let us in. But I was still bitter.
We went to this restaurant in the marquee and it was a bit of a posh do. Wine and all that stuff going on. Monstrous Regiment were there but their feminist dungarees were off and their public school cocktail dresses were on.
Then one of the Monstrous Regiment women – one I particularly didn’t like – got her handbag nicked. And she went berserk.
“Catch him!” she yelled. “Get the police! I want that man put in prison!”
So I said to her:
“It’s not his fault. It’s Society’s fault. It’s all our faults”.
At the end of all this, they asked one person from each show to get up on the bar and give a speech to the assembled Press.
By now, the Monstrous Regiment woman had calmed down. She got up on the bar and said:
“We’re doing a play. It’s about prisoners. It’s all Society’s fault and it’s a scathing indictment of Society”.
Then she jumped off the bar and the German with the pig got up.
“We’re doing an opera with a pig,” he said.
So we were next and I stood up on the bar, having told Martin to tug my trousers at the appropriate moment.
“Well, ladies and gentlemen of the Press,” I started saying: “We’re The Greatest Show on Legs and we have a bit of a comedy show in that tent over there, but this is no night for comedy because I’ve just read in the paper that the great Glenda Jackson has passed away and, in the spirit of the Fringe,” – I had a real tear came out of my eye at this point – “I’d like to ask for one minute’s silence for a great actress.”
And they did.
A whole minute.
I looked at my watch and the whole minute went by.
A long time.
Then Martin tugged my trousers and handed up my newspaper to me. I looked at it:
“Oh!” I said. “Not Glenda Jackson. Wendy Jackson. A pensioner from Sydenham….. Doesn’t matter then, does it?”
The tent fell even more silent than during the Minute’s Silence.
After a pause, a thespian in the front just looked up at me and theatrically projected the words:
The ironic thing was that he was wearing a pink and green shirt at the time.
This was the beginning – 1982 – of a beautiful, long-running relationship between the Edinburgh Fringe and me.
But I have never been sure how to categorise her. Actress, comedian, clown, puppeteer, singer/songwriter? She seems to do ’em all. I also made the initial mistake of thinking she was from the US. Never a good thing.
“I’m Canadian,” she reminded me this week. “Originally from St Catherines, Ontario near Toronto. Well, actually, I’m from everywhere. We moved around a lot.”
Nelly as Zuma Puma at the weekly Lost Cabaret club shows
“So what did you want to be as a kid?” I asked. “An actress?”
“My mother is a theatre director and my father’s a set designer,” Nelly/Zuma told me, “So I was just like doing theatre forever.”
In fact, aged 12, she was also dancing with Canada’s Opera Atelier. When she was 17, she had an award-winning role at one of Canada’s most prestigious theatres – the Shaw Festival Theatre.
“I was one of the witches in The Crucible in a 6-month run in the main stage,” she told me (without mentioning the award she got).
“That was when it all started,” she told me. “The woman who played Abigail in The Crucible became a great mentor for me and she had studied at Canada’s National Theatre School, which is where I wanted to go. But she said: Don’t go to the National Theatre School. I spent four years there and then I went to L’Ecole Philippe Gaulier in Paris and re-did it all and now I’m getting all the work… Gaulier’s a genius. If you can, just go straight to him.”
Philippe Gaulier, memorable mime muse and more of Paris
“So, when I finished high school in Canada, I went to study with Philippe Gaulier in Paris. I showed up there thinking I was this very serious actress and just flopped every day for about six months. Every day I’d come on and Philippe Gaulier would say Oh you are this boring Canadian little rabbit lost in the forest taking a poo poo. Oh she is so beautiful. Wow. You love her. You want to fuck her every night of your life. That’s what he’d say every day and then he’d ask someone I had had a crush on in the class and they would say No, she’s a boring rabbit poo poo in the Canadian forest.”
“This sounds like some cult breaking down your personality,” I said.
“But I WAS shit,” insisted Nelly/Zuma. “He was training us to find the magic, to know how to identify it when we were on our own. And so, after six months of flopping every day trying to be this serious actress, we started the character section – character/clown/comedy – and I came out the first day and I stayed on stage for 15 minutes and everyone was laughing and I’d never… It was the best moment of my life… For some reason, all this time I’d thought I was a serious actress and it turned out that I was a lot funnier than I thought I was.”
“And after that you went back to Canada?” I asked.
Almond Roca: The Lost Cabaret at Edinburgh Fringe 2013
“I went from Paris back to Victoria, British Columbia,” said Nelly/Zuma, “where I lived in a cave with a man named Caveman Dan and then I hitchhiked to California and around California. I was singing at this time – R&B, Blues, jazz and a little bit hip-hop.”
“With bands?” I asked.
“Yeah, doing stuff with producers and musicians and all sorts of people for years. I ended up teaching at a circus school in Costa Rica, met a band there and toured with them to Peru for ten months. Kind of just being an idiot on the road.
“After that, I decided I wanted to finish my clown school in Montreal because I’d sort of started it and done little bits here and there.”
In fact, she studied puppetry at the Banff Arts Centre, completing L’Ecole Clown et Comedie with Gaulier’s Protege and Cirque du Soleil’s first clowns Francine Côté and James Keylon in Montreal.
“I had just finished the clown school,” Nelly/Zuma told me, “when my grandfather passed away in 2012 – he was British. We all came here for the funeral and, afterwards, my parents asked me When do you want to leave? and I said Give me an open flight and I’ll figure it out. Then I went to Buddhafield and met Adam Oliver (her cohort in Almond Roca: The Lost Cabaret at the Edinburgh Fringe) at a hippie festival and came to London to visit Annie Bashford who I’d gone to Gaulier with.
Nelly: Nancy Sanazi at the Edinburgh Fringe
“She was playing Anne Stank (a singing Anne Frank) in Frank Sanazi’s Das Vegas Night gigs with Agent Lynch playing Nancy Sanazi. Then Agent Lynch got picked up to perform with La Clique and Annie suggested me to Pete (Frank Sanazi) as his new Nancy Sanazi; I was only staying with her for a week.
“After doing Nancy Sanazi at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012, we had a few gigs lined up and Pete said Stay a couple of months so I said I’d stay until Christmas and I was also doing a double act with Annie back then – we were called Grumpy Lettuce.
“At the end of October, we did a show at Lost Theatre in London and the artistic director wanted to start up a cabaret night called Lost Cabaret at the Priory Arms in Stockwell and was looking for a compere, so I did that.”
“You’re certainly busy,” I said. “Do you have an agent?”
“No, I’d like one. Actually, I don’t know what’s happening with the Adam Lost Cabaret at the moment. He’s so busy producing a million and one things… Maybe we’ll do some double acty stuff in various places.”
“And then you’ve got these London Play Group workshops for adults that start next Wednesday,” I asked, trying to be helpful. “What are they about?”
Nelly (left) & Annie – Grumpy Lettuce
“Well, replied Nelly/Zuma, “a bunch of adults will come and we’ll get absolutely ridiculous, have loads of fun, play ridiculous games together – just like playful children’s games – improvisation, clown games – like how to find your ridiculous self, how to become free in your self-expression on stage and how to bring that play into life. That’s what we’re exploring. Finding pleasure in life, connecting to people in a playful community and making friends with this hub of people who feel they don’t have enough play or laughter in their life because we’re forced to live this adult lifestyle. Finding a way to be ridiculous.
“I’m also starting a feminist theatre show as part of a group of four people. We’re just starting to talk about it. We feel there’s loads of feminist festivals all over the country that we’d love to tour with our bizarre show. We feel there’s a lot of angry feminists who have made it all about angry women who hate men and we want to bring it back to equality and involve men in feminist theatre and say a man can be a feminist too.”
“So there are men involved?”
“Dan Lees,” said Nelly, “who was in Moonfish Rhumba.”
In the final week of the recent Edinburgh Fringe, I chaired five daily hour-long chat shows. In the fourth show, the guests were Scots comedy critic Kate Copstick (always known simply as ‘Copstick’) and American comedians Laura Levites & Lynn Ruth Miller. There were several English comedians in the audience, including Janet Bettesworth and Bob Slayer. This is a brief extract:
American performer Lynn Ruth Miller (left) & Kate Copstick
COPSTICK: As far as I’m concerned, the most strongly feminist comedian on the Fringe is Lynn Ruth – and Laura’s not doing too badly either. The amount of shit you’ve both taken and overcome without wearing the I’m A Feminist teeshirt and waving Boys Are Bad – Throw Stones At Them flags.
LAURA: To me, being a feminist is not about what you say, it’s about what you do. I’ve always believed that actions speak louder than words. You don’t say Look at me! Look at me! You just do things.
LYNN RUTH: I don’t think feminism is knocking down men. I love men. Why can’t we just be people? I don’t see any difference. I think men have the same insecurities as women.
LAURA: I think they have more insecurities.
JOHN: What sort of insecurities?
LYNN RUTH: Oh, they’re so worried about their bodies.
LAURA: Their bodies, their dicks. Every night I’ve had to lie in bed with a guy who’s drunk too much and blah blah blah you gotta listen to that shit. Oh my god! Shut up! But my biggest problem with feminists is they get mad when someone sexualises you. I like being sexualised. Objectify me! Talk about my tits and ass – Please!
LYNN RUTH: Nobody’s talked about mine in years.
LAURA: It’s like you can’t… If somebody says a woman’s pretty or…
LYNN RUTH: I like somebody saying that.
LAURA: Yeah. But, if somebody talks about a woman’s body, then all ‘the women’ get up in arms Arghh! You’re sexualising! But you’re a woman. You can’t ignore the way women look. They have things sticking out. Women have tits. Women have shapely bodies. How do you ignore that? I get so mad.
COPSTICK: I would give my right arm to be a sex object.
BOB SLAYER: There are some websites where giving your right arm would make you more sexy.
JANET BETTESWORTH: How do you feel about She was asking for it? You know, exposing bits, it’s late at night, she’s got a pussy pelmet, she was out on the street, so… She was asking for it.
COPSTICK: Well I genuinely believe – this won’‘t go down well, but – if you walk into Battersea Dogs Home with your legs covered in prime rump steak, you cannot complain if you get bitten.
LYNN RUTH: Yes.
LAURA: I agree.
COPSTICK: If you put it out there, someone’s going to pick it up.
Lynn Ruth Miller (left) and Laura Levites agreed on men
LYNN RUTH: You gotta have the right look. In Redwood City, there were a lot of women who were constantly walking by a bowling alley and they were being attacked and they were being raped. And I had my two little dogs and walked by the bowling alley every day and I called up the police and said You know, I walk by there every day and I was waiting for them to say Well, YOU they’re not going to bother! But I mean I think I just don’t have the right look. It’s like, when you are afraid of a dog, it IS going to bite you.
LAURA: But I think most women don’t understand the way most men view them. Whether or not you like it – it’s not about liking it or not – men do look at you like a sexual being. It doesn’t matter what you look like as a woman, there’s some dude that’s gonna want to fuck you. It’s absolutely true. If you’re walking down a street at night with parts of you exposed, it doesn’t mean you’re ‘asking for it’, but you have to be aware…
LYNN RUTH: It’s called good advertising.
LAURA: … people are going to respond to you. You can’t ignore the fact that you’re a woman. You can’t ignore the fact you shouldn’t drink too much with a man by yourself. you shouldn’t take strange men home with you. You gotta be careful and it’s up to you to own that responsibility and keep yourself in safe situations.
COPSTICK: I think we’ve only got one word for it, which is rape.
LAURA: Yes, we should have more words.
COPSTICK: At the moment, it’s ludicrous, but that one word covers both someone who is wandering along a road and some person completely unknown to her leaps out – which must be horrendous and terrifying and it’s not about sex, it’s about violence. It’s a very specific form of assault… That is one thing… That is horrendous… But then there’s some twat of a 19-year-old who dolls herself up, covers herself in make-up, goes out, gets shit-faced, gets a guy, gets more shit-faced, takes him back to her place or goes back to his place, takes some items of clothing off, starts playing tonsil hockey, has her nipples twiddled, starts playing the horizontal tango … It’s too fucking late to start complaining. It’s not his fault any more. You can’t go Yes-yes-yes-yes-yes-yes – Oh! – No! – It’s not fair.
LYNN RUTH: I think the thing I’m feminist about is I don’t want women to use their bodies for currency. They can use their minds.
COPSTICK: Nobody wants your mind. I know this.
LAURA: What do you mean ‘currency’?
LYNN RUTH: They dress to get attention. I won’t say who, but there’s a comedian here in Edinburgh who slept with this guy because she wanted him to put her in the show. There are better ways to get in a show than to get fucked. Women can accomplish what they want in other ways.
COPSTICK: But can they?
LYNN RUTH: I have.
COPSTICK: You’ve never used your body to get what you want?”
LYNN RUTH: Never. Because I had anorexia and I was a mess. It’s really true. Nobody’s come on to me for 50 years.
This afternoon, I am driving to Totnes in Devon with comedian Matt Roper, who has started to describe himself as a homeless vagabond, though I prefer to think of him as an itinerant purveyor of comedic entertainment.
Being a ‘vagabond’ might imply dubious liaisons with women and goats… Of which more later.
Matt Roper claims I will like Totnes, because it is full of interesting creative people.
Martin & Vivienne at home last night
Coincidentally, last night, my eternally-un-named friend and I had dinner at Vivienne & Martin Soan’s home in South East London. Martin created comedy group The Greatest Show on Legs, famed for their naked balloon dance which included late godfather of UK alternative comedy Malcolm Hardee.
“Totnes is where we created the balloon dance,” Martin told me over dinner.
“I’ve never been there,” I said.
“It’s like a little model village,” explained Martin. “Perfect in every way. But full scale. Divorced rock ‘n’ roll wives in the 1970s decided that it was a good place to live.
“Malcolm had a liaison with one of these ex wives – I think she was an ex-wife of one of The Small Faces – and all these rock chicks had moved down there and just three miles up the road was Dartington College, which was the very first ‘free’ school which was very liberal and encouraged dramatic arts.
Totnes – like a model village but real… or is it maybe surreal?
“Totnes is like The Village in The Prisoner. It is perfect in every way. Not too many people. You have your drunks and you have your council house people. But, basically, all the locals have had four generations of acid-taking liberalism. Even the council-house crack-addict coke-head element has been gentrified and you get amazing sights.
“There used to be this one guy with a great big Afghan hound, an Edwardian suit and a waxed moustache who walked up and down like some latter-day rake.
“In the church, where Malcolm got off with a girl called Lucy The Goat Lady… That sounds very demeaning, but nicknames are easier to remember than real names… Her name was Lucy…
Crowley “the wickedest man in the world”
“She said we could stay at her place, a big rambling farmhouse which belonged to Dick Heckstall-Smith, the English jazz saxophonist and in the grounds was this de-consecrated church. It had been de-consecrated because the occultist Aleister Crowley had bought the house years before and done secret ceremonies late at night. When the locals found out, they had the church de-consecrated.
“And, in the kitchen of the house,” Martin continued, “the Greatest Show on Legs reacted to the local extreme, over-the-top feminists who were living in this land of privilege and having weekly meetings about how they could wipe out Chinese foot-binding in Devon. Shit. They were all living in a bubble, really. It was our reaction to that. We thought up the balloon dance in the kitchen and we went to the Dartmouth Inn that night and premiered it.”
My eternally-un-named friend was a bit surprised.
“It was a reaction to feminists wanting to ban foot-binding in Devon?” she asked.
“The Greatest Show on Legs were feminists,” said Martin. “We weren’t sexist in any way.”
“That’s what I thought – sort of,” said my eternally-un-named friend, who knew Malcolm and Martin before I did.
“Though,” said Martin’s wife Vivienne, “they antagonised feminists all over the place.”
“Yes,” said Martin, “but they were feminists who weren’t really thinking. In actual fact, we were rather gallant as a group of performers.”
“You just went round fucking everybody in sight,” said Vivienne.
(From left) Malcolm Hardee, Paul Wiseman, Martin Soan possibly/probably in the 1980s (Photograph by Steve Taylor)
“I was trying,” said Martin, “to think of a rather more poetic or lyrical way of putting it… We were young men and we enjoyed ourselves, but we did it in a rather gallant way.”
“After you, Malcolm…,” suggested Vivienne. “No, after you, Martin… Oops, sorry Malcolm… After you…”
“But, getting back to the balloon dance,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “What year was that?”
“I can’t remember,” said Martin.
“It would have been the 1970s, early 1980s,” suggested Vivienne.
“It’s like writing Malcolm’s autobiography,” I said. “He never knew which decade things happened in either.”
“Anyway,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “in this kitchen, you suddenly thought Ooh! Let’s do a strip with balloons!”
“Because,” explained Vivienne, “they were reacting against the ultra-feminists who were trying to create a storm about Chinese foot-binding.”
“I don’t quite see the connection,” said my eternally-un-named friend.
“We arrived there,” said Martin, “and just thought This is sick. They’re living in their own world. Everything’s perfect. What right have they got to complain? They’ve got nothing to complain about. To start being over-the-top feminists in such a rarified atmosphere… It just antagonised us….
“So we thought: I know! We’ll fucking take our kit off! And we were laughing. We were not thinking about it as creating a routine. It was as much a joke for ourselves. A stunt. Let’s take our kit off! But it went down such a storm that night, Malcolm and I thought Right. Let’s keep it in the show.”
Martin Soan enters his living room last night in SE London
“So,” said Vivienne, “Totnes is now full of creative people who are probably all the children of these feminists.”
“And this goat woman…” asked my eternally-un-named friend. “She would be about 60 now?”
“Probably,” mused Martin. “Older. She was older than us.”
“She had a goat?” asked my eternally-un-named friend.
“She did have a goat,” replied Martin.
“Is that why she was called Goat Woman?”
“Goat Lady,” corrected Martin. “Not Goat Woman.”
“The Greatest Show on Legs were always very gallant,” I said. “What was the goat called?”
“John,” said Martin reprovingly, “I don’t know what the fucking goat was called. It didn’t have a name. I would have loved it if the goat had been introduced to me, but it was just there as the goat.”
“But goats have names, too,” I protested. “Bob Slayer went round Australia with Gary The Goat.”
“That’s slightly different,” said Martin.
“You’re the one who calls women ‘ladies’,” I argued. “Goats deserve respect too.”
Yesterday, he was passing through Borehamwood and popped in to see me at my home but, this time I asked him questions.
Obviously, the first thing I asked him what he was working on.
“I’m doing Secrets of the Elders of Zion,” he told me. “I can’t decide if it’s for the Edinburgh Fringe or not. I still don’t know what works at Edinburgh and what doesn’t – maybe no-one does. The concept is that I’m trying to become a member of the Elders of Zion, but I can’t find who I need to speak to, so I decide to start up the UK branch myself. The stage show would be like a members’ open day, to get people involved. I don’t know how far I want to take it in the real world. But I’m thinking of contacting the Chief Rabbi.
“I’ve seen Jewish performers do Jewish shows and it’s either Yeah! I’m proud to be Jewish! or I hate Jews!… I want to do something that’s kinda both. I did a free scratch performance of Secrets of the Elders of Zion at the annual Limmud Conference at Warwick University last month and I came out bleeding a little bit from that. But I now know what works and what doesn’t in the show.”
“And after that, it’s…?” I asked.
“Feminisn’t,” said Hayden.
“Feminisn’t?” I asked.
“Feminisn’t,” said Hayden. “That’s the next show after Secrets of the Elders of Zion, if I can find a way to do it without alienating half of my demographic. I get irritated by sexism. It annoys me but, at the same time, I feel there are certain issues that blokes are scared to address… but, if I can do it in a funny way… What I was thinking of doing was going to as many different organisations and to as many different women as possible who define themselves as Feminist.
“A lot of religious women feel empowered even though the Feminist movement would argue the last thing they are is empowered. But they say: Well, it’s my choice to cook and clean and not do all the main praying in the place of worship. I want to contrast that with, say, the Women’s Institute people and the women who say Being a woman is just a construct of society; there is no gender.
“I already know what I want the end to be – I want it to be that anyone who thinks they know what Feminism is clearly doesn’t understand Feminism.
“It annoys me when Feminists say Oh, we want women to be able to choose whatever they want and, when a woman decides to choose to have a family, they then say Oh, well that’s anti-Feminist!
“No it’s not. No it’s not at all.
“At the same time, I want to do it a way that’s not quite as ham-fisted as what I’ve just said, because that will end up offending people. I want to do it in a fun way and it’s difficult to get that balance.”
“So you see yourself basically as a comic doing serious material?” I asked.
“I don’t know if I’m ever going to make it with my style of stuff,” said Hayden. “I don’t want to be type-cast. Some people have said You should do Age of The Geek 2 and I did think of Age of The Geek 2: The Cash-In Sequel, but that requires Age of The Geek to be much bigger than it is.
“It sounds weird, but I want to be a guy like Phill Jupitus. Not really categorised as anything specific. Neither is Craig Charles now. They do lots of different things.”
“Well,” I said, “Craig Charles has done Coronation Street on TV and Phill Jupitus has been in Spamalot and Hairspray in the West End after starting as Porky The Poet, so I see what you mean. The money is in TV, though.”
“Money would be lovely,” said Hayden, “but it’s not about the money. You see the same faces again and again on TV panel shows and all the bite’s gone. The bite has disappeared from TV. Where is it? You’ve got Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, which I love.
“But the style I‘d like to emulate – not emulate, build-upon – is George Carlin. He was brilliant. The fact that he philosophised in a funny way that was never contrived. I still can’t figure it out. I’ve watched it loads of times and tried to think Can I do anything like that? but, every time I try, it just comes out like a rant.”
“But your rant,” I said, “might end up as good as his non-rant. If you copy someone else’s style it won’t work but, if you do the same basic skeleton of a concept in a different way, it can work because it will be you.”
“I don’t know where I fit,” Hayden told me. “Age of The Geek was not really a standard show. It wasn’t yer ordinary stand-up and so I felt a lot of people didn’t know what they were expecting.
“I got very frustrated when some people went Oh, I loved the poetry but I hated the songs and others went The songs were really good; hated the poetry. It feels like you can’t win. This is now my rant. It seems like everyone wants to pigeonhole you. You’re a stand-up comedian. Or You’re a writer. Or You’re a musician… Why?
“You can understand bureaucrats wanting to pigeonhole themselves, because they like the structure and clarity of it. But people in entertainment??? I don’t understand why… Well, I do understand from a practical viewpoint. If you say you’re a comedian, then someone who wants a comedian will get you in. But there needs to be something more – your favourite word – anarchic.
“I’ve done an album of straight music and I feel like I’m doing more comedy because people have said Oh, you’re a comedian! and it’s just too much of a headache to say It’s a bit more complicated than that… People don’t like that.”